A state funeral for Jim Flaherty is taking place at St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto at Wednesday afternoon. The former finance minister, 64, died of a heart attack April 10 at his condo in Ottawa.

What is a state funeral?

A state funeral is a public event organized by the government to honour the life of a prominent Canadian.

Who is entitled to a state funeral?

Generally state funerals are held for present and former governors general, present and former prime ministers and sitting cabinet members. However, any prominent Canadian may be offered a state funeral at the discretion of the prime minister.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper reached out to Jim Flaherty’s family, offering a state funeral for the former finance minister. He is the 11th minister to have received a state funeral.

He is only the fifth person to receive a Canadian state funeral at the discretion of a prime minister.

Nelson Mandela, Jack Layton, Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother), and Thomas D’Arcy McGee have all received state funerals in Canada.

What happens at a state funeral?

State funerals are planned by the government in consultation with the family, which means that every service is different. Elements may include lying-in-state, a procession, a funeral service, and committal and post-committal receptions. The family decides which elements they would like to include in consultation with the government.

Flaherty’s family chose to hold a visitation Tuesday afternoon at the Abilities Centre in Whitby, Ont., ahead of the state funeral.

The former minister and Whitby-Oshawa MP is a celebrated advocate for people with disabilities – one of his triplet sons, John, has a developmental disability. Flaherty and his wife, Ontario MPP Christine Elliott, were very involved in the planning of the Abilities Centre as a recreation centre for those with disabilities.

“We’ve already seen a very low-key approach,” said Richard Berthelsen, a protocol expert.“It wasn’t a formal lying-in-state but it was an opportunity for people who knew him best out in Whitby to pay respects.”

Berthelsen said he expects the Flaherty family take on a significant role in Wednesday’s state funeral.

“We’re seeing both the sister, as well as his wife, Christine Elliott, and the boys render homage in speeches today at the cathedral,” Berthelsen said. “I’m sure the hymns have been specifically chosen by the Flaherty family.”

Who is invited to a state funeral?

The Canadian Table of Precedence, a symbolic and non-written hierarchy of important positions with the government of Canada, is used to determine who will be invited to the state funeral.

Gov. Gen. David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin and Speaker of the Senate Noel Kinsella are at the top of the hierarchy, in that order.

The family is involved in determining the invitation list.

“We’re also going to see a large turnout of people who have been his colleagues in the financial industry, and people from his own constituency, and, of course, members of the public,” Berthelsen said.

Who was the first person to receive a state funeral in Canada?

The first person to receive a state funeral in Canada was Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a father of Confederation, who was assassinated for his political beliefs in Ottawa in April 1868.

“The government established the precedent of honouring people with a state funeral who might not otherwise be in an office that would be entitled to it,” Berthelsen said.

According to Berthelsen, almost 80,000 people turned out in Montreal for McGee’s state funeral. Only 100,000 people lived in the city at that time.

The service for Flaherty marks the 37th state funeral in Canada.